Belfast Telegraph

North West 200: Beating Robert Dunlop's record isn't Alastair Seeley's main driving factor

By Jim Gracey

It only seems like yesterday when he used to chill out with his friends and look on as the bikes roared past.

And yet this week Alastair Seeley is preparing to edge just that little bit closer to the Vauxhall International North West 200 all-time winning record set by one of the riders who enthralled him more than most back in the days when he was an innocent bystander.

And who knows - he might even overtake it.

He needs another three victories to equal the 15 achieved by Robert Dunlop, who once headed up that most famous of all racing dynasties and who, regrettably, is no longer with us.

Seeley (35), from Carrickfergus, is due to race twice on Thursday and then four more times on Saturday when crowds of up to 80,000 will line the Portstewart-Coleraine-Portrush circuit which is near enough his spiritual racing home.

"I think it's the location," said the rider known as the Wee Wizard. "I used to spend so much time up here as a kid, around the seaside towns. I'd come up with my mates with a few cans of beer and watch the races.

"Little did I know that a few years down the line I would be one of the guys out on the track. It is the atmosphere and the buzz of race week. That's what makes it so special.

"So what started off as a bit of craic has now turned into business."

There is no doubt that Seeley, a 12-time winner over the previous decade, will be one of THE star attractions - especially on his new BMW 1000 RR superbike - as he renews his rivalry with John McGuinness, Michael Rutter, Gary Johnston, Bruce Anstey, Guy Martin, and the Dunlop brothers, William and Michael, sons of the late, great Robert. Martin and William Dunlop are also part of his Tyco BMW team.

Seeley scored his first victory of the season at Oulton Park just over a week ago after coming up short in the previous two rounds of the Pirelli National Superstock Championship.

There are another nine rounds to go in a bid to regain a title which he won in 2009, two years before claiming the Superbike Championship.

But his immediate priority is the North West where he won twice last year to bring him within three of Robert Dunlop's record.

There has been just one significant change to the course. The Juniper Hill chicane has been re-named the McLean Chicane following a new three-year sponsorship agreement with McLean Bookmakers, Northern Ireland's largest independent bookmaking chain with over 60 shops.

Seeley has already met with event director Mervyn Whyte to examine that specially branded, exciting 250-yard stretch, half a mile from the finishing line, and the scene of so many last lap overtaking manoeuvres that have helped him to rack up those 12 victories.

And he will be flat out on the new Superbike, especially beyond Station Corner on the Cromore Road, on one of the fastest parts of the course.

Seeley said: "I feel really comfortable on it. It is a fast bike. The North West is all about big straights and speed. So it should be well suited to the circuit.

"If the wind is blowing in the right direction we could be doing over 200 mph heading from Portstewart into Coleraine."

But it is on the coast roads where races are won and lost, and it will be his performance levels here which could determine if he gets within reach of the all-time wins record this week.

Seeley added: "If we have a good week, then there is a strong possibility. I have six opportunities from six races and it would be nice to get a podium finish in each one.

"But that's going to be very, very hard because it's an international event.

"There are a lot of top class riders here. But I have a good team around me. I have a good package. I'm fit and healthy.

"I'm not going out specifically to beat Robert Dunlop's record. It is more like going to win for my team and any records are a bonus. My aim is for a podium finish in each race."

North West 200: Aces in pack all revved up, fans in for a treat as big guns set sights on glory North West 200: Michael Dunlop targets Superbike victory on Milwaukee Yamaha R-1 North West 200: Special experience will stay with riders forever, writes Philip McCallen

Belfast Telegraph


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